Throughout the Scorpions' first season this year, forward Pablo Campos wowed San Antonio fans with his knack for making big plays when his team needed them most.
Then came Sunday night at Heroes Stadium.
Only two minutes after opening the scoring in San Antonio's decisive game against the Minnesota Stars in the second leg of the NASL semifinals, Campos was ejected after getting into an altercation with Trinity alum Kyle Altman.
Fouled by Altman, Campos apparently head-butted him in retaliation. Officials immediately red-carded the Scorpions' star, sending him to the locker room in the 26th minute and leaving his team short-handed for the rest of the game against the defending NASL champs.
The Stars rallied in the final 15 minutes to beat the Scorpions 2-1, earning a spot in the North American Soccer League title series against Tampa Bay.
"We came into the locker room with a one-goal lead, playing very well," Scorpions manager Tim Hankinson said. "We've had four games this year playing a man down, so we knew what we needed to do to try and stay in it.
"But you're also playing against the defending champions, who are going to throw everything they can at you. We got within 15 minutes of pulling it off, but when they tied it up and your guys have worked so hard defensively, it's tough to create chances."
Scorpions manager: 'You have to take the high road'
A crowd of 6,249 watched the Stars, who have won 9 games, lost 9 and tied 11 this season, defeat the Scorpions (13-8-8) for the first time this season.
The teams had played to four ties in five previous meetings, including a scoreless draw last weekend in Minnesota in the first leg of the NASL semifinals. The team with the most goals at the end of the two semifinal games advances to the title series.
Minnesota will play the Tampa Bay Rowdies in the finals.
"It's a player's game and players can make decisions that win you games and they can make decisions that can lose you games," Hankinson said, referring to Campos' dust-up with Altman. "You have to take the high road at this point of the season. You have to keep calm heads.
"It's just the way it is. You have to be able to overcome getting baited. He's (Campos) a mature player and he should know better. Our boys played unbelievably considering they were playing a man down against the defending champs."
Campos, the leading scorer in the NASL during the regular season with 20 goals, did not speak with reporters after the game.
Campos was sent off shortly after scoring the Scorpions' only goal in the 24th minute. Midfielder Jonathan Greenfield had the assist on the play.
Stars scored clincher in 82nd minute
Playing with only 10 players for more than an hour after that, the Scorpions held fast until defender Blake Wagner inadvertently knocked a cross from the Stars into the back of the net for an own-goal in the 75th minute.
Forward Simone Bracalello scored the decisive goal in the 82nd minute, barely getting a shot past the outstretched arms of Scorpions goalkeeper Daryl Sattler.
"I'm just lost for words, just the way the game went," Sattler said. "That's just the way the game of football is. We go up 1-0, then we go down a man. Then we give up our own-goal. We played well against the defending champions with 10 men.
"They got chances for 72 minutes, or whatever it was, but we kept them off the board. It's just unfortunate, unlucky. It's disheartening, especially since they hadn't beaten us all season. But playing with 10 men, it's never easy against the defending champions. It just slipped away from us."
Despite the disappointing loss, Hankinson said the Scorpions made great strides on and off the field in their first season.
"The fans were unbelievable tonight," he said. "They've been unbelievable all season in their support. You really set out to try and set standards that future players and future teams get measured by and have to stand up trying to reach.
"This year has been a year of setting great standards. It means that next year will be a promising year because guys will come in with expectations, rather than just trying to figure it out as a new group."